Gold

Everyone has heard of Constantinople at some point in their life, I should think–at least they’ve heard that annoying song “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)”. Some may even know that it fell to the army and navy of the Ottoman Turks under Sultan Mehmet II in 1453, ending the Eastern Roman Empire after a thousand years of existence. The Ottomans relocated the capital of their empire there, renaming it as Istanbul. (Christian Europe continued calling it Constantinople for centuries; it’s only over the last hundred years or so that Istanbul has come into more common usage.) But few know much more about the city and the empire it served as capital for over a millenium. Of those, some may know the basics–the Emperor Constantine, the first Roman Emperor to convert to Christianity, recognizing that the enormous Roman Empire had become impossible to rule or enforce law or protect, split the empire into eastern and western halves, and founded a capital for the east on the site of the village of Byzantium, renaming it Constantinople. The Western Roman Empire collapsed in 473 when the city fell; yet the eastern empire continued until 1453. Western Europe, always trying to reclaim the heritage of the Roman Empire (and ambitiously planning to rebuild it), always referred to the still existing Roman Empire as “Greek” rather than “Roman,” although the citizens of that great city and the vestiges of its empire continued calling themselves Romans until the Turks finally ended it.

But that thousand year history? It’s not easy to find information or books with much information; even the one history of the Empire I did read–Lost to the West by Lars Brownworth, along with his City of Fortune, a history of the Venetian Empire–glossed over centuries and only hit highlights. I’ve always wanted to write something historical set in the new Rome.

The Eastern Empire out-lasted its western counterpart by nearly a thousand years. Constantinople was one of the greatest Christian cities of all time; there was certainly nothing even remotely close to it in western Europe in terms of population, art, culture, education, and trade. It’s location put it in control of access and egress from the Black Sea; it also controlled the trade routes between Europe and Asia. Its fall in 1453 meant that those trade routes were now controlled by the non-Christian Islamic Ottoman Empire–and as such, other ways to reach the far east became necessary to the western Europeans, hence the Portuguese circumnavigating Africa and the Spanish attempt to sail west to find a route, leading to the “discovery” of the Americas. The fall of Constantinople was an incredibly important and necessary piece of the interlocking puzzle that led to European colonization and the global empires that resulted from it (as well as the oppression and enslavement and genocide of native populations); but Western historians–in particular, those monastic scholars in Catholic orders–have always tried to erase and /or lessen the importance of the eastern Empire and its capital, calling them “Greeks”, renaming the Eastern Roman Empire as the “Byzantine Empire,” etc.–and in no small part, this was also because of the Christian Schism of 1054, in which the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church split in two over questions of dogma. Therefore, it was in the interest of the Western Europeans to underplay the vital importance to European history of the remains of the Roman Empire because western Catholics considered their Orthodox brethren as heretics; their church was the true one, even if it was in the east that the religion originally came from, and it was in the eastern half of the empire the tenets and dogma of the “true” faith were established. The Pope in Rome always tried to assert his own authority over the Patriarch in Constantinople; the Patriarch considered himself to be the head of the faith and the Pope just another bishop. Thus, when Charlemagne conquered most of central Europe, he and the Pope created the Holy Roman Empire (which wasn’t holy, or Roman, or even really an empire in the traditional sense); the Romans in Constantinople were not pleased. (At the time, through some political machinations and drama, a woman was seated on the throne in Constantinople–the Empress Irene, one of the most interesting women in European history; she was also pretty terrible. The Pope decided there could be no such thing as a female Emperor, and so he crowned Charlemagne.)

The Holy Roman Empire also lasted over a thousand years.

Anyway, I’ve always been interested in the eastern Empire, even though it’s largely neglected in European histories. But one event in its history has always been interesting to me in particular –the fall of Constantinople to the Catholic 4th Crusade in 1204, which essentially set the stage for the second fall of the city, to the Ottomans in 1453. I also have an idea for a Colin book–which I’ve had for a very long time–that would have its beginnings in the 1204 sack of Constantinople.

It’s remarkably hard to find much information–granted, it’s not like I’ve tried very hard, but the fact that you have to try hard to find histories and/or books about the Empire and its capital, let alone the 4th Crusade–even histories of the Crusades themselves gloss over the fact that a Crusader army, blessed by the Pope, allowed itself to be diverted by the Venetians to capture and sack two Christians cities (Zara and Constantinople), and established “Latin” (western European) kingdoms and principalities out of the provinces that were once the Eastern Roman Empire. These Catholic kingdoms were so despised by their subjects that they didn’t last long, with another dynasty of the old empire arising to drive them out. The sack of the city and the pillaging and destruction that followed created such a deep hatred for the Catholic Church and the kings that followed the Pope that they preferred the Ottomans to a reconquest by the Catholic nations–which is saying something. Ernie Bradford’s The Great Betrayal: The Great Siege of Constantinople is a very thorough account of the tragedy and how it came to pass; the destruction of the mighty city–along with the destruction of priceless books and documents and art forever lost to us–was on a par with the burning of the Great Library at Alexandria.

The book itself is very interesting; the siege took nearly a year, and it’s actually kind of shocking that the Crusaders succeeded in taking the city, bearing in mind the strong defenses and so forth. A lot of things had to fit into place for it to happen, and they all did. The city came so close to holding them off successfully; it’s almost as though, as they would have said at the time, it was God’s will for it to happen. The city was also filled with all kinds of priceless Christian relics; after all, the religion was founded in the east, and as city after city fell to foreign invaders, a lot of priceless artifacts and holy relics were moved to the capital. (The great horses from the Hippodrome, for example, are proudly on display in the Piazza San Marco in Venice to this day.) A lot of the art was destroyed, jewels picked out of reliquaries, the gold or silver or bronze melted down for coin, and so forth.

As someone who has always loved history, and also has always loved treasure hunts–especially those that are involved with the history and development of Christianity, many years ago (I will freely confess to being inspired by Indiana Jones movies) I thought about writing such a treasure hunt story–where the ‘treasure’ being hunted was some important document or book or relic from the earliest days of Christianity that would revolutionize the faith as well as show how off-course it had gone since the earliest days…and wouldn’t it have made sense that whatever it was could have been kept in Constantinople, deep in the archives of the Orthodox Church? And with western, Catholic Europeans besieging the city, wouldn’t the Patriarch have wanted to keep it out of the hands of the Pope, and smuggled it out of the city to be hidden somewhere else, safe from the prying eyes of Rome?

And of course, when I created Colin–actually, when I brought him back in Jackson Square Jazz–I loved the character so much that I considered spinning him off; what about the jobs he’s on when he’s not in New Orleans? “Oh,” I thought, “my fall of Constantinople story! That could work for Colin!” And it even occurred to me the other day that I could even do them as “case files,” setting them throughout the past, both before and after he met Scotty and woven in between the Scotty stories. (It also occurred to me that I could do Scotty stories to fill in the years between books, if I wanted to…)

And reading this book–which i recommend if you want to know more about “holy wars” and how corrupt and unholy they actually were–made me think about it even more. I do want to include something about the Empress Irene, too.

Something to brainstorm at some point. Like I have the time to squeeze in another book…but it would be fun; although I don’t know how good I would be at writing action/adventure/thrillers.

It would be fun to find out, though.

Right on the Tip of My Tongue

Tuesday and it’s back into the office with me today. Huzzah.

Yesterday I entered data until my eyes crossed, but I got everything caught up. I also, once I was finished with my work for the day, walked over to Office Depot and got some more organizational items to try to make the kitchen workspace–and the kitchen overall–better organized and pulled together. It’s better now–looking around at the space this morning it certainly looks better than the hot mess it’s been for quite some time–so that’s something, I think. I slept fairly well last night, so as I am slowly waking up this morning over my coffee I am thinking this looks pretty good around here this morning. I also decided that since it’s still Pride Month my reading should continue to be queer books, at least for this month, so I plucked John Copenhaver’s The Savage Kind out of the TBR pile (it did win the Lambda Award for Best Mystery this past weekend after all) and hope to start reading it this evening when I get home from work. I made a binder for “Never Kiss a Stranger” as well as ones for Chlorine and Mississippi River Mischief–which definitely helped getting loose piles of paper and file folders off the counter tops, and at the same time felt strangely like I actually was making some kind of progress, which is always enormously helpful with feeling like you’ve gotten some place, accomplished something.

I just feel like I’m not getting anywhere with anything these days, but my mind has really worked strangely over the past few years. My concept of time is completely altered–not that it was ever really strong to begin with, honestly–and I struggle with memory lapses; my memory doesn’t really work the way it used to, which is incredibly concerning, or used to be; it seems like everyone is having the same kind of problems, and it probably is pandemic/interesting times causing it for everyone that seems to be affected (of course, if this was a suspense thriller, some mad genius would have done something to trigger this in people around the world for their own nefarious purposes–you can tell I watched a James Bond film last night), but it still is distressing to say the least.

I am also glad I took the weekend off. I feel like it was absolutely necessary, and there’s a three day weekend coming up this weekend, which is really nice as well. I don’t think I’ll be able to take the entire weekend off again this weekend–certainly not all three days–but it’s a very pleasant thought, I must say, and I am looking forward to getting through the rest of this week so I can rest up this weekend.

Whine, whine, whine.

And yes, we did watch the final Daniel Craig as James Bond thriller No Time to Die last night. It was gorgeously shot, and Craig is much closer to the Bond Ian Fleming wrote about in the books so many decades ago (I was very young when Fleming died), and while watching last night I thought about the original thirteen Bond books that Fleming wrote all those years ago and how badly those stories have aged–and how little the movies based on them resemble the books. The book Live and Let Die was horrifically racist (I read it again a few years ago, since it’s been decades since I read them) and then watched the movie again, which is also bad in that respect. Live and Let Die was also the first Bond movie I saw in the theater–and parts of it were filmed/set in and around New Orleans, so that part of it has always been sentimental for me in some ways…but yikes. The stereotypes! And the Bond books themselves celebrated imperialistic colonialism–many of the books are set in Jamaica or other possessions of the British empire, and that oh-so-British sense of superiority is very present in the books. But No Time to Die was a perfectly adequate Bond thriller film; Daniel Craig is a commanding presence on the screen, even if the villain, played by Oscar winner Rami Malek (which prompted me to say, “Freddie Mercury would have made a great Bond villain”) wasn’t really developed enough to really hit hard as the bad guy.

Then again, are any of the Bond villains ever really developed?

But watching a James Bond movie, coupled with me reading The Great Betrayal about the 4th Crusade, has me in mind of writing a Colin thriller again–I could of course set it at any time, so it doesn’t necessarily have to be current; the lovely thing about a Colin series is I could literally go back and set them in and around Scotty books, which would/could be very fun to do–but I am just not so great about writing action, I suppose–and thrillers are a lot of action, from beginning to end. I also don’t know enough about guns, really–how can I write about a gunfight or being shot at, or shooting back–but it could be fun….I already know the opening scene (set in 1204, as the city is on the brink of falling; the Patriarch of the Eastern Orthodox Church calls in a couple of warrior priests to smuggle something to safety, and that something is the MacGuffin the entire story turns on: the Pope/Rome wants whatever it is, and the Patriarch would rather burn in hell than let what he considers the Roman heretics have it) and I also know what the first chapter would be–Colin rescuing a politician’s daughter from the terrorists who kidnapped her–and then we would get into the MacGuffin/treasure hunt, with of course the Vatican being the bad guys (seriously, only Nazis make better bad guys than the Vatican) and all kinds of fun stuff.

Someday, perhaps.

And on that note, tis time for me to get back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Tuesday, Constant Reader.